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Atlantic Menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus


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Atlantic Menhaden
credit: JoJan

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Family: Clupeidae, Herrings view all from this family

Description The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) is a silvery, highly compressed fish in the herring family, Clupeidae. A filter feeder, it lives on plankton caught in midwater. Adult fish can filter up to four gallons of water a minute; and they play an important role in clarifying ocean water. They are also a natural check to the deadly red tide.

Menhaden have historically been used as a fertilizer for crops. It is likely that menhaden is the fish that Squanto taught the Pilgrims to bury alongside freshly planted seeds as fertilizer. Other uses for menhaden include: feed for animals, bait for fish, oil for human consumption, oil for manufacturing purposes and oil as a fuel source.

While many articles today state the menhaden as being inedible, the fish were once consumed as sardines or fried in early American history. Maine fisherman, for example, would eat fried pogies for breakfast. The fish that were not sold for bait would be sold to poorer classes for food.

Menhaden historically occurred in large numbers in the North Atlantic, ranging from Nova Scotia, Canada to central Florida, USA, although their presence in northern waters has diminished in the 20th Century. They swim in large schools, some reportedly up to 40 miles (64 km) long. As a result of their abundance they are important prey for a wide range of predators including bluefish, striped bass, cod, haddock, halibut, mackerel, swordfish, and tuna.

Dimensions Up to 18" (46 cm).

Habitat Open ocean, Ocean or bay shallows, Estuaries, tidal flats & salt marshes.

Range New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Florida, Eastern Canada.